Workers defiant as Bombardier moves to sell Belfast site
Meetings are being held at the site when more details are expected from the Canadian aerospace firm.
Workers have vowed to “raise hell” if the sale of aerospace firm Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operation is followed by job losses.
The Canadian manufacturing giant employs around 3,500 people in the region and is a mainstay of the labour market.
The latest announcement is the result of a decision to focus on business jets.
Unite the Union said it was optimistic about the chances of finding a buyer for the multinational’s Belfast aerostructures business.
Regional co-ordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald said she did not care what name the company went by as long as there was security of employment.
“By hook or by crook we will play a role in watching who is putting their name forward.
“We will be closely watching that and if we see rogue elements and people looking to come in and asset strip or take a blade to this workforce, we will cause hell.”
It has been a turbulent few years at the plant, with almost 500 redundancies recently announced and the averted threat of US trade sanctions following a complaint from rival manufacturer Boeing about alleged unfair pricing.
Bombardier’s commitment to the former Short Brothers site has transformed the business, housing a state-of-art A220 wing factory, formerly the C-Series, with a healthy order book of more than 500, the UK Government said.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The Belfast plant is one of our most important aerospace facilities in the country and a vital asset in the UK’s leading aerospace sector.
“It is a centre of excellence in advanced composites as well as the design and manufacture of some of the most technical and high-value parts of aerospace manufacturing.”
The union said it was “livid” after some of its members discovered the planned sale by social media and the media was told first.
Meetings were held at the Belfast site on Thursday.
A statement by Bombardier in Belfast said: “Our sites in Belfast and Morocco have seen a significant increase in work from other global customers in recent years.
“We are recognised as a global leader in aerostructures, with unique end-to-end capabilities – through design and development, testing and manufacture, to after-market support. Bombardier is committed to finding the right buyer – one that will operate responsibly and help us achieve our full growth potential.
#Bombardier today announced the consolidation of its aerospace assets into a fully integrated Bombardier Aviation business unit, to better support our customers and generate value for shareholders --> https://t.co/XOEGAVMvoP pic.twitter.com/gus8ZzouUz— Bombardier Inc. (@Bombardier) May 2, 2019
“We understand that this announcement may cause concern among our employees, but we will be working closely with them and our unions as matters progress, and through any future transition period to a new owner.
“There are no new workforce announcements as a result of this decision, but our management team will continue to drive ongoing transformation initiatives to improve productivity and increase our competitiveness, to give more weight to our unique value proposition to potential buyers.”
Since 2014 the company’s workforce has halved to around 3,500, the union said.
The Trump administration’s threat to impose trade tariffs, following what it claimed was unfair dumping of the company’s products on the US market at below-cost price, was only averted after months of uncertainty.
Davy Thompson, Unite regional co-ordinating officer in Belfast, said he was hopeful about future prospects and called for nationalisation if there was a danger of Bombardier collapsing.
He predicted the Belfast operation will survive as it would otherwise collapse a large part of the business and bring it down.
“Bombardier has been profitable in the past, it can be profitable in the future. We are hopeful if we get the right investment that will give us the opportunity to grow.”
GMB union organiser Michael Mulholland demanded reassurances over the future of hard-hit workers.
✈️ We're demanding reassurances over the future of Bombardier workers.— GMB UNION (@GMB_union) May 2, 2019
🗨️ “Bombardier jobs are absolutely vital to Northern Ireland’s economy and its time workers were treated with the respect they deserve." @gmbx02 https://t.co/ngsiSgWnNW
“Our members – and their families – have already suffered a terrible year.”
Jackie Pollock, Unite’s regional secretary in Ireland, said: “Today’s announcement will come as a shock to the entire Bombardier workforce in Northern Ireland. Many of the company’s 3,600 employees will be left asking what this will mean for the long-term future of their jobs.
“Unite will be seeking assurances from Bombardier and the Government around this process. It doesn’t matter whose name is above the gate – what matters is that we safeguard jobs and skills in this critical industry.
“The UK Government must stand ready to ensure the retention of jobs and skills at these sites. Bombardier is simply too important to the Northern Ireland economy to allow anything less.”
Tony Lloyd, shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said: “This shock announcement is a devastating blow to Bombardier’s workforce and suppliers.
“The Government must now step in and engage with trade unions to ensure the workers at the Belfast site and throughout the supply chain are protected and that assistance is provided to find an appropriate buyer.”